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Yad Vashem Seminar

From the balcony outside my classroom at the International School for Holocaust Studies at Yad Vashem, the rolling hills of Jerusalem seemed endless. Clouds drifted lazily above, casting patchwork shadows on the expanse of breathtaking land. All this awe-inspiring beauty intermixed with the ancient history surrounding me was nearly impossible to take in fully during an eight-day seminar. But the hardest to comprehend (and will always be the hardest) was studying the Holocaust. The Holocaust lectures ranging from The Final Solution and its Implementation to Confronting Holocaust Denial left me with a plethora of notes and a heavy heart. I've been studying the Holocaust for years, but being in Israel made it all the more emotional and personal for me as we focused deeply on personal stories of both survivors and victims.

Tommy Fritta wasn't even a year old when he was forced in the Terezin ghetto with his parents. All he had known up to his third birthday was starvation and persecution. His father, Bedřich was an artist and created a colorful picture book called, "To Tommy, for His Third Birthday in Terezin, 22 January 1944" which told adventure stories of Tommy going off to far away places. It was an act of resistance on Bedřich's part to create a present for his son in the midst of so much darkness and evil. 

 "And what would you like to be? An engineer? Or a painter? We're off on our travels - somewhere cold or somewhere warm?"
© Thomas Fritta-Haas

This book is all Tommy has left of his parents who were murdered in the Holocaust. 

"My mommy, daddy bedudu!"
© Thomas Fritta-Haas
During our guided tours around Jerusalem we would see the beautiful, innocent faces of Jewish children and I couldn't help but think of Tommy whose early life was defined by the Holocaust. After studying why the Holocaust happened, I'll still never comprehend why. I'll never understand the hate.

Lecture after lecture, my heart broke more and more. Thankfully, we had breaks in-between lectures where I could get outside and let the sunlight rejuvenate my spirits. I could see Jerusalem spread before me and I felt hatikvah—the hope of Israel.  

During our sessions on Holocaust Art, Holocaust Literature, and Cultural and Spiritual Resistance, I was in awe of how unbreakable people can be. To create art and literature in the midst of so much despair, when you're starving and exhausted, took so much courage. 

"The seed of a creative idea does not die in mud and scum. Even there it will germinate and spread its blossom like a star shining in the darkness." — Petr Ginz 1928-1944

Petr Ginz and his sister in Prague before the war - Copyright: Vad Vashem
Youths like Petr Ginz resisted the Nazis with their ability to laugh, love, and create beauty. They also used their creative talents to show the world what was happening, to bear witness. The Nazis took away their family, friends, homes, everything. But there was one thing the Nazis couldn't take away—their human spirit.

"Let us, even in the ghetto, spite the enemy and go on living and building ... death may come tomorrow but today we will live ..." —Mark  Dworzetsky

I had the opportunity to meet two Holocaust survivors—Eva Lavi and Yehudit KleinmanHearing their testimonies was one of the (many) memorable and powerful experiences during my trip. Elie Wisel said: "When you listen to a witness, you become a witness."

Yehudit Kleinman is originally from Italy and went into hiding during the Holocaust. She was 5 years old when her mother and grandmother were taken away. Only years later did she learn they were murdered at Auschwitz. Yehudit survived the war and came to Israel at age seven, not knowing anyone. Despite the heartache and fear, Yehudit said she never lost her hope.

I met Eva Lavi at Oskar Schindler's grave on Mt. Zion. Eva is the youngest Schindler survivor and there's a scene in Schindler's List that shows her as a child. As the Nazis separate her from her mother, Schindler saves her by telling the guards that he needs her small fingers to operate machinery. There's something so special about interacting with Holocaust survivors. After all Eva went through, she radiates hope. And hope is contagious!

The seminar at Yad Vashem left me in a tangled mess of emotions—excitement, sadness, hope. I left Israel clinging to hope because I saw a beautiful land with beautiful people who built themselves up after incomprehensible suffering.

But the greatest form of Jewish resistance is this: They have children and grandchildren. Hitler doesn't. 

Our hope is not yet lost,
The hope of two millennia,
To be a free people in our land,
The land of Zion and Jerusalem.


Memorial Miles

There are some seasons in life when everything seems to happen at once, hence my unintended blogging hiatus! I've been trying to squeeze running in because it's just a great way to escape from the never ending to-do list going through my brain, get some exercise, and listen to great podcasts! Those are reasons enough to go for a run, but then a thing called Charity Miles came across my radar and now I have more motivation! The Charity Miles app tracks your distance and for every mile you run/walk, a corporate sponsor will give $0.25 to the charity of your choice.

I've been running for the Wounded Warrior Project, and I'd love for you to join me! Through the Charity Miles app you can join my team called "memorialmiles" and choose the Wounded Warrior Project for your next run. We can see, as a team, how many miles we earn this month!

While the group is for supporting wounded warriors, I also included in the description that it's to honor our fallen heroes as well. Memorial Day is coming up and it's a good time to think about not only the sacrifices of our wounded warriors and veterans, but those who made the ultimate sacrifice. 

When I run past an American flag I often remember "Wild Bill" Guarnere's quote: 

"When I think about the war, I don't think about the battle. I think about the men. I look at an American flag today and I see the faces of men I fought with, the ones who lived and the ones who died." 

Lately I've been thinking about Warren "Skip" Muck (101st Airborne) and Jason Dunham (USMC) who were both around my age when they made the ultimate sacrifice for our country.

Want to join the team? Download the Charity Miles App and select the Team tab (second to the right on the bottom of the screen). In the search bar enter "memorialmiles" and click "join."


The White Rose Resistance 75th Anniversary

It is certain that today every honest German is ashamed of his government. Who among us has any conception of the dimensions of shame that will befall us and our children when one day the veil has fallen from our eyes and the most horrible of crimes—crimes that infinitely outdistance every human measure—reach the light of day?

These powerful words were the first of many written in the basement of an artist’s studio in Munich, Germany. It was June, 1942 when two young men serving in the Student Medical Company at the University of Munich, Hans Scholl and Alexander Schmorell, laboriously mimeographed hundreds of anti-Nazi leaflets. They were forming a non-violent, intellectual resistance movement under the name Leaflets of The White Rose.

Voices From the Holocaust

In observance of Holocaust Remembrance Day, I put together this video to honor and remember the millions of victims whose voices were silenced.


“They Probably Deserved a Medal"

If you're a long time reader of this blog, you'll probably recognize the name Joe Leo. He's my favorite B-17 waist-gunner and a dear friend. In the summer of 2016 I was given the opportunity to fly in a B-17 from WWII. When I got home I called him up. “Joe, I got to fly in your plane!” The following week we met for coffee and pie to chat about B-17s. We looked over a model B-17 and identified the different positions—pilot, co-pilot, waist gunners, tail gunner, navigator, bombardier, radio man, and engineer. We agreed that neither of us would want to be the ball turret gunner, a brave soul who was scrunched up in a little Plexiglas ball on the belly of the airplane.

While I've shared WWII stories from Joe on the blog before, I wanted to post a quick story about the time he tried lifting a 250-pound bomb out of the bomb bay while flying over Germany. He told me this story before I flew in a B-17 so when I asked him to tell it again after my flight, I gained a whole new respect for what he did!

Joe is standing beside the window where he manned a waist gun.

Tribute to a Paratrooper

Tony Zanzinger (1924-2017)
"I was out the other night and I heard our National Anthem being played and then I saw our flag flying. It was a sight I'll never forget. Looking at the flag I could not see the stars in the field of blue; instead I saw a picture of home and all of your faces. It sure does put a feeling in your heart. That's why I'm here, mom, so that I can help to keep all of you safe back home." - Tony Zanzinger in a letter to his mother

At a WWII event in 2015 I had the honor to meet Tony Zanzinger who served with the 501st PIR, 101st Airborne during WWII. After talking to him and hearing his incredible stories, I went home even more in awe of the Greatest Generation. I can truly credit much of my interest and admiration for the Airborne paratroopers to Tony. Tony's unit paralleled the 506th (Band of Brothers) as they fought in Normandy, Holland, Bastogne, and captured Hitler’s Eagle Nest in Berchtesgaden. I don't know how many people I told, "I met a paratrooper who played chopsticks on Hitler's piano!" He was truly a treasure of history, wisdom, and good ol' American grit. One of my favorite memories from the WWII event was watching Tony beside a 101st Airborne reenactor. I remember him saying, "It's like looking at myself." 

Operation Gratitude Collection Drive

Long time no post! Honestly, how does time go by so quickly? Anyway, here I am with a post about the Operation Gratitude collection drive I helped organize at the Eldred World War II Museum last weekend. Operation Gratitude is a 501c3 nonprofit organization that sends care packages and letters of appreciation to U.S. troops, first responders, veterans, military families, and wounded heroes. Their mission is to thank every American who serves. I'm going to share a bit about the collection drive and encourage you to host one in your community. You don't have to wait for a special holiday like Veterans Day to host an event. You can say thank you anytime of the year! 

Operation Gratitude has wishlist items listed on their website which is a good place to start. They also have certain care kits you can assemble such as The Patrol Care Kit, The Elements Care Kit, and Hygiene Care KitI chose the Elements Care Kit to keep the list of items needed more manageable for people donating, but everyone was very generous and donated enough items for various care kits!